The desire for Chinese food in general, and dumplings in particular, haunts us rather frequently. On a recent stroll around the West End, the urge struck and we decided to pop into a little off-the-beaten path dumpling place we’d read about on the Very Hungry Londoner and see if the queue would be long (as this was a Saturday night). When we arrived, no queue. Not even a crowd. Open seating and dumplings!
Oh, the place is cash only. And there’s no alcohol.
If you made it past that last sentence, the place we’re talking about is Jen Cafe, off the main strip of Chinatown just off Shaftesbury, at 4-8 Newport Place – the kind of place that doesn’t have a website. It is tiny, can get cramped, is a bit dingy, and the service a bit gruff. But they serve awesome dumplings, hand-rolled by a woman standing in the front window near the door (and we noticed on our last trip that there were only women working at the cafe). This is a spot for delicious food, folks, served quickly and at a fair price.
We’ve visited Jen a few times and tried several rice dishes across our visits – crispy pork, honey pork, BBQ pork ribs, roast duck – they were all delicious, but we prefer the boneless selections (e.g. crispy pork and honey pork). But the dumplings are the star here – and somewhat surprisingly, we prefer the Beijing (boiled) dumplings over the fried version. Both varieties seem to share the same filling – a bit of pork, ginger, Chinese scallions, etc – but the fried version gives a chewier wrapper with a bit less filling and a little les juice inside. But at these prices, order both for the sake of variety.
This is a perfect little spot when you’re in the West End and you don’t want to fight the crowds trying to get into many of the other stops along Gerrard Street, perhaps as a belly-stuffer before heading out (or taking a break from being out). So throw some chili oil, soy, and vinegar in a bowl, and dip away. You won’t leave hungry.